Lot 26
  • 26


100,000 - 150,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • 175cm. high, 120cm. wide; 5ft. 8 7/8 in., 3ft. 11 1/2 in.
of rectangular domed form, surmounted by a foliate cresting issuing floral swags, the straight sides with mirrored pilasters, above a central medallion depicting an exotic mask to the base, the back with a pencil inscription 'Galerie'


King Umberto II of Italy (1904-1983);
Christie's, Geneva, 18 November 1974, lot 96;
Sotheby’s London, From the Estate of the Late Giuseppe Rossi, 10 March 1999, lot 74;
Where acquired by the current owner. COMPARATIVE LITERATURE

R. Antonetto, Il Mobile Piemonte nel Settecento, Turin, 2010.
G. Ferraris, Giuseppe Maria Bonzanigo, Turin, 1991.

Catalogue Note

If microscultura brought Giuseppe Maria Bonzanigo European fame and guaranteed his place in History of Art, it was nonetheless the Savoy furniture commissions for multiple Royal palaces that truly positioned him, together with Pietro Piffetti, at the pinnacle of Piedmontese furniture. Characterised by his departure from the traditional school of Franco-Piedmontese inlay and marquetry cabinet-making in favour of a more prominent use of carving, his work represents the finest Italian neoclassical furniture ever sculpted and the superb quality of the carving and the highly sophisticated design on the present mirror allows us to ascribe its production to this celebrated cabinet maker and sculptor. Bonzanigo is intrinsically linked to the Savoy family through the patronage that the Royal family granted him and it is interesting to note that the present lot belonged to the last reigning member of this dynasty – King Umberto II. Whilst we do not know the provenance before his exile in 1946, one can surmise that the mirror was once in one of the Savoy palaces and accompanied Umberto into exile. His ancestor, King Amadeo III of Sardinia (1726-1796), extensively employed Bonzanigo in multiple palaces and a firescreen at the Palazzo Reale, Turin, dated from 1775 (fig.1 from R. Antonetto, op.cit., cat. no. 1, pp.342-345) is similar in quality and style, featuring the doves, the quiver and the torch (symbols of love). It is thought to have been a wedding gift from Victor Amadeus to his daughter-in-law, Marie Clotilde of France, when she married the future King Charles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia in 1775.

The attention to the carved frieze with the running of the scrolls of leaves and flowers, and use of Ionic capitals, are also found on armchairs by Bonzanigo carved for the Principessa di Piemonte, in the Royal Palace, Turin (ill. R. Antonetto, op.cit., cat. no. 14, pp.356-357). One should also compare the peculiar palm fronds of the cresting with the scrolling foliage of a paliotto for which a drawing signed by Bonzanigo exists (G. Ferraris, op.cit., Turin, 1991, p.84, ref. LXII).

The bouquets of flowers, scrolls and acanthus leaves are further found on two pairs of mirrors by Bonzanigo, both dated from 1784 and located in King Vittorio Emanuel's apartments at Stupinigi, the Royal hunting lodge of the Palazzo Reale, Turin, illustrated ill. R. Antonetto, op.cit., cat. no. 14 and 5, pp.346-347.

Finally, the presence of an exotic mask on the lower section of the current mirror is significant. Distinctive fancy masks are frequently found on pieces by Bonzanigo, as seen on the pilasters of the commode at Villa Carlotta di Tremezzo (Como) (Antonetto, op.cit., n. 17, p.361), on the armrests of the above mentioned armchair and, more significantly, on the vault of the windows in the Appartamento della Duchessa d’Aosta, on the second floor of the Royal palace in Turin, which was carved by Bonzanigo. A commode attributed to Bonzanigo sold in these rooms (6th December 2006, lot 98) also bears the related draped mask (also ill. in Antonetto, op.cit., nr. 18, p.362)

Giuseppe Maria Bonzanigo (1745-1820)

Born into a family of sculptors in Asti in 1745, Bonzanigo is first recorded as working for the House of Savoy in Turin by 1773. From the following year onwards, his name appears more and more frequently in the Real Casa documents – having worked for the Royal Palace in Turin and the Royal residences at Moncalieri, Rivoli, Stupinigi and Venaria - with a particularly prolific period from 1784 to 1786.

In 1787 he joined Francesco Bogliè and Giuseppe Antonio Gianotti as scultore in legno for Vittorio Amadeo IIIa title of which he was particularly proud of, clearly uncluding it in his assured self-portrait – “Sculpteur du Roi de Sardaigne” (see Sotheby’s London, Treasures, 4th July 2018, lot 27). The Royal edict is complimentary: “La particolare abilità, e perizia dimonstrata dallo scultore in legno Giuseppe Maria Bonzanigo, nell esseguimento de’ diversi travagli da parecchi anni a questa parte ordinati per nostro servizio, e di quelli singolarmente, che ha in ultimo luogo con singolare maestria  perfezionati, invitandoci a darglien contrassegno della nostra beneficenza, ci hanno disposti a stabilirlo nostro scultore in legno, all’ogetto anche di maggiormente animarlo a distinguersi nell’arte suddetta” (Ferraris, op. cit. p.49).

His fame went beyond borders, boosted by the extraordinary skill demonstrated in his micro sculpture and carving in wood and ivory, resulting in further commissions from the Royal family, the Piedmontese aristocracy and from the Napoleonic establishment. After the restoration of Vittorio Emanuele I, he would become his primo sculptor, due to the prestige that his meticulous micro sculpture reached but also due to his numerous commissions delivered to the Savoys.